By Blanche R. Robertson
A speech delivered by Pamela Ballard for the D.A.R. meeting held at the Asheville Country Club, Asheville, North Carolina, January 13, 1999.
The area we live in is south west of the Blue Ridge Mountains-they are the eastern spur of the Appalachian Mountain Range. Our area is unique in the fact that the majority of present North Carolina and the North Carolina counties in what is now Tennessee were settled by white people long before the [rest of the] area was settled, because the Indian tribes living in or hunting in this area made a treaty with Great Britain to exclude white settlers. Of course, the end of the Revolutionary War, with the defeat of Great Britain, ended that treaty. As early as 1769, and until the very early part of the Revolutionary War, white settlers in other areas of present North Carolina believed they were getting crowded and began to move across the Appalachian Mountains and establish settlements. Until Tennessee became a state in 1797, North Carolina did not have a western boundary.
It was around 1779, that a Biffle family left their land in Rowan County, North Carolina (that would now be present Davidson County), traveled west through the Yadkin Valley, and crossed the mountains to the newly formed Sullivan County, North Carolina. There they entered land on the south side of the Holston River. Among those who made the move were German-born Adam Biffle, his Pennsylvania-born wife, Catherine Henckel, and their children.
As fighting of the Revolutionary War moved to the South, and it looked as if the American Colonists would lose the war, three companies were raised in the settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains to join Col. McDowell in central North Carolina who had been pushed back by British Major Patrick Ferguson. Col. Isaac Shelby raised, just in Sullivan County, a company of 240 men and teen-aged boys who helped defeat the British in the Battle of King's Mountain.
We know from his pension application that Adam Biffle's son, Jacob Biffle, at around the age of 16, entered Col. Shelby's Company and took part in the Battle of King's Mountain and skirmished in South Carolina until 1782. Jacob Biffle was acquainted with a young fellow, about his age, by the name of John Weaver who was born in Virginia.
Did Jacob Biffle's brother, John Biffle; his brother-in-law, John Jacob Eller, Jr.; and his friend, John Weaver, fight in the war together? I believe they did, but I have no proof. The Revolutionary War Pension Act was not passed by Congress until June 7, 1832, and by then John Weaver had been dead for nearly a year and a half.
After the war was over, and moves that took place later prove, I'm sure that some of those soldiers, in their tattered frontier clothes, including John Weaver and his friends, Jacob and John Biffle, walked the hundreds of miles home to Sullivan County through this area which had been Indian territory by treaty. They saw an unspoiled area with low to tall mountains, narrow valleys with cool winding streams, tall virgin timber, plenty of fish, small to large game (because at that time plenty of deer and buffalo roamed this area), and probably not Indian villages, and if they saw Indians, they were not bothered. John Weaver and the Biffle brothers vowed to return.
In late 1785, and not doubt in Sullivan County, twenty-one year old John Weaver married thirteen year old Elizabeth Biffle, sister to Jacob and John Biffle. John and Elizabeth Biffle Weaver's son, Jacob Weaver, was born September 13, 1786, and as soon as Elizabeth was able to travel in the late fall of 1786, John and Elizabeth Biffle Weaver with baby Jacob left where they were living in Happy Valley, in present Carter County, Tennessee (formerly Watauga Settlement before it became a part of Washington County, North Carolina in 1777), crossed the Appalachian Mountains by way of the Bald Mountain in present Yancey County, North Carolina, and continued on until they came to the beautiful valley later called Rims Creek. I'm sure John Weaver knew where he was taking Elizabeth and their young son. No doubt John walked every step of the way, carried a rifle, and led the horse or mule so Elizabeth and the baby could ride. Together they built their home to form the 2nd permanent white settlement southwest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the first white settlement in the north part of present Buncombe County. By present day description, their cabin stood a few yards north of the present GTE telephone office building, a few yards west of Dogwood Road, and less than a quarter of a mile east of the southern end of Weaverville.
The Bee Tree Settlement across the mountain to the southeast of John Weaver, in the Swannanoa Valley, was the first permanent white settlement in this area. It was begun a year or more before John Weaver arrived, and it had grown considerably. Those settlers had come across the Blue Ridge Mountains from Rowan County. It is well documents that in that settlement, Rhoda Alexander was born November 6, 1785, and possible other females were born in that settlement before John Weaver, his wife and child, Jacob, arrived in late fall of 1786.
Perhaps the first white man John and Elizabeth Biffle Weaver saw after their move to this area was Shedrack Hyatt, born in Rowan County in 1773, who had come west with the Bee Tree Settlers, but had wandered into this valley to hunt and fish. He had made friends with the few Indians he had encountered and from them it is believed that he had bought the land in the upper part of this valley in exchange for his rifle. He stayed in this valley. He later married but had to obtain a land grant. His descendents still live in this valley.
In the late spring or early summer of 1787, the 2nd child, a daughter, was born to John and Elizabeth Biffle Weaver. They named her Susannah Weaver. No, she was not the "first white girl born west of the Blue Ridge Mountains," as shown on the bronze plaque erected by W.N.C. Unaka Chapter of the Daughters of American Colonists, unveiled and placed on her grave on October 23, 1953, by a large crowd of dignitaries. This is a great embarrassment to me and it angered some few living descendents of the Bee Tree Settlement, and it should have. Some historians have written that William Moore, and not John Weaver, farmed the second settlement. But more recent research and study on the Moore family revealed that William Moore possibly staked out land in Hominy Valley before John Weaver and family came to western North Carolina. But William Moore did not bring his family to this area to live until after John Weaver's settlement. No doubt William Moore was the first white settler west of the French Broad River.
Soon after John and Elizabeth Biffle Weaver arrived her, Elizabeth's parents, Adam and Catherine Henckel Biffle, her two brothers, Jacob and John Biffle with their families, plus William Deaver and family arrived from Sullivan County, North Carolina.
Had Elizabeth Biffle Weaver written or called her folks in Sullivan County to tell them that she, John, and baby Jacob had arrive safely in this beautiful valley? Did she tell them how long their journey took? Did she describe the route they took? And, did she beg her folks to pack up and move here? Since such was not possible, it becomes more obvious that members of her folk's back in Sullivan County had been through this area before and had already planned to move their families here.
Elizabeth's parents, Adam and Catherine Henckel Biffle, built their pine cabin near present Lake Louise, by the side of the creek. Adam built his milldam and gristmill-many successive owners, but on that site a gristmill operated for about 157 years. Today, after about 200 or more years, remnants of that old Biffle Mill dam can be seen. They were buried near to where they lived-present Lake Louise-only fieldstones, which have long since disappeared, marked their graves. They were important pioneers who should be remembered. A committee of Eller and Weaver descendants has raised the money and a brass plate showing their names and dates has been ordered. And my husband Jim and I have furnished a mill grinding stone for that plate to be attached to, and it will stand near the northwest corner of Lake Louise.
William Deaver and family settled further up the creek-land where David Vance later lived. Deaver descendents moved to present Transylvania County, North Carolina.
Jacob Biffle and wife Mary Deaver later returned to Tennessee. In John Biffle's gristmill, the Newfound Baptist Church was organized, February 22, 1802. By 1817, he and his family had moved to DeKalb County, Georgia, where he built another gristmill and organized a church [Macedonia Baptist Church, ed.]. On September 20, 1817, he applied for and received his dismissal from Newfound Church.
By 1787, the year after John Weaver and his family came to this valley; many families began to arrive-mainly from Burke and Rowan Counties of North Carolina. Many settlers brought slaves with them. That was the year that Col. David Vance and family arrived and it was also the year that another man wandered into the valley, apparently just to hunt and fish. He had talked to the John Weaver family and told them his name was Rims. By then, John Weaver had acquired some slaves. Occasionally the John Weaver family, other settlers, and their slaves would see an Indian or several of them roaming through the valley hunting or fishing-but they were friendly and never bothered anyone. But one day, the John Weaver family and his slaves heard the war whoops of Indians. The sound was coming from further down the creek. No doubt the Weaver family was frightened, but no Indians came near their home. Several hours after the noise had ceased, John Weaver's slaves went in the direction the sounds came from. In a clearing near the creek, they spotted a trail of blood. They followed the trail of blood for a few yards to a laurel thicket across the above creek. Between rocks in sort of a cave, they found the body of Rims, who had been shot by Indian arrows. It was believed that in some way he angered those Indians. The slaves buried Rims' body at the upper end of Weaver-Biffle property. My mother, her sisters and brother, members of the Weaver family, and descendents of other families remember the mounded up grave of Rims in a field a good many yards west of present Pleasant Grove Road and bridge, but more recent plowing and grazing of cattle have destroyed that mound and we not longer know its exact location. In his memory, the creek became known as Rims Creek. That spelling was used for a lot of years in deeds, wills, court records, and the name of the two early churches.
Col. David Vance, son of Samuel Vance and Sarah Colville, was born in 1745 in Frederick County, Virginia. He took part in many Revolutionary War battles before arriving in North Carolina, where, on September 21, 1775, according to existing marriage bond, he was married to Pricilla Brank, born in Rowan County, North Carolina, in 1756. Robert Brank signed the bond as her father. (Judge Avery, in his history of Quaker Meadows Presbyterian Church, wrote that Peter Brank was Pricilla's father and that some error was copied by Sondley in his history of Buncombe County). Peter Brank was Pricilla's brother.
When David Vance and Pricilla moved from present Burke County, North Carolina, to our valley, they brought with them slaves and their four oldest children: Jean, Sarah, Pricilla, and Samuel. Four more children would be born on Rims Creek. The also brought with them Pricilla's 9-or-10 year old nephew, Robert Houston Brank, who had been raised by them since he was an infant. Soon after he was born, his mother, Rebecca Alexander Brank, was scalped by Indians. She survived, but was unable to take care of her infant son, and when Robert Houston Brank was three years old, his father, Peter Brank, died in the Battle of King's Mountain.
The land David Vance built his home on had belonged to William Deaver. Robert Houston Brank remained with the Vance family until he was nearly grown. His mother recovered, remarried a widower, Andrew Miller, and moved to present Henderson County. Robert Houston Brank's two older sisters had married and had moved to the Rims Creek area. Rachel Brank was married to a Revolutionary War soldier, William Brittain. Elizabeth Brank was married to an attorney, Robert Williamson, who built a water-powered log sawmill on Rims Creek.
In 1791, the year Buncombe County was organized, the Rims Creek Presbyterian Church was built by Robert Williamson on his property with logs sawed by his mill. The church stood opposite where my husband Jim and I live. Above the church, the slave graveyard was established. The church was attended by the majority of the permanent residents of the valley. To name a few: the John Weaver family; the Vance family; and George Penland (born in Delaware), his wife Ann Alexander, who lived at the head of the valley in present Beech Community, Allen Fox and his wife Jensey Penland, who lived at the foot of the mountain now called Hamburg with one side overlooking Weaverville (he was a cooper by trade who would take his barrels and staves by ox cart to Hamburg, Georgia, and he began to be called the Humburg man. The church was also attended by the Hughey families. Joseph Hughey was the first sheriff of Buncombe County and his home was on property where my husband Jim and I live. He moved to Indiana.
In the Rims Creek Presbyterian Church, Robert Houston Brank was married by its first circuit preacher, the Rev. George Newton, to Elizabeth Rice, born across the mountain to the south on Bull Creek, daughter of Joseph Rice, who killed the last buffalo in the area, and Margaret Young.
Robert Houston Brank was my mother's great grandfather and his father; Peter Brank (killed at King's Mountain) was my mother's great grand father. My mother's D.A.R. ancestor was Peter Brank.
Bishop Francis Asbury, from St. George's Methodist Church in Philadelphia, helped to spread Methodism throughout the eastern part of the United States. Between 1800 and 1814, each fall he included this area in his visits.
John Weaver had been exposed to Methodism in the Holston River Valley before he was married; therefore, they began to attend Asbury's meetings when he came to Buncombe County. At one of those meetings, it was suggested that John Weaver establish a Methodist church in his area. He and friends in 1805, in the center of what is now called Old Weaverville Cemetery, built-or converted and old abandoned house-a log church building. Of course, that took him out of the Presbyterian Church. The church was under the South Carolina Methodist Conference-until the Holston Methodist Conference was established in 1824. To this little log church our present Weaverville Methodist Church owes its heritage back to 1805.
On December 13, 1830, John Weaver died at age 66. It had been twenty-five years since he organized the Rims Creek Methodist Church and forty-four since he came to this valley to form the second white settlement southwest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He was survived by his wife of forty-five years, Elizabeth Biffle Weaver, and their eleven children. Two sons-his oldest, Jacob Weaver, and his youngest, Michael Montraville Weaver-had been licensed as local Methodist preachers. John Weaver was buried in front of the Rims Creek Methodist Church. The cemetery for a lot of years was called Rims Creek Methodist Church Cemetery. It is now known as Old Weaverville Cemetery.
The church building actually was in an inconvenient spot-the Bald Mountain Road traversed the opposite ridge to the west and on that ridge, for several years, people of any faith and with no designated faith had met each fall during the time of the Harvest Moon to hold Camp Meetings. To that meeting, many old and young preachers found they way and there were nearby springs. In 1831, the old log church building was abandoned and the congregation moved into a building on Rims Creek later called the Salem Campground, then the church was called Salem Methodist Church.
It wasn't until after the Civil War that the log Rims Creek Presbyterian Church building was abandoned and the remaining congregation moved into a building in what is now called Hemphill Community.
On my father's, Morris Adler Roberts, side, his mother was Susan Elizabeth Weaver. Through her, John Weaver and Elizabeth Biffle were my great, great, great (3 greats) grandparents through their first and oldest son, local Methodist preacher the Rev. Jacob Weaver, who married Elizabeth Siler.
Four your regent Joan Hunter Long, John Weaver and Elizabeth Biffle were he great, great, great, great (4 greats) grandparents, through their sixth child and fourth daughter Catherine Weaver, who was married September 4, 1815, to a circuit Methodist preacher, Rev. Andrew Hallum Pickens, born in Abbeville, South Carolina. The year they were married, he was in the South Carolina Methodist Conference, Catawba District, and Black Mountain Circuit. He had joined the South Carolina Conference in 1811. No doubt, they met when he found his way to old Salem Campground, Rims Creek, or the Rims Creek Methodist Church.